Syria regime, Russia killed 12 civilians in 'indiscriminate' attack during school run: HRW
Russian-backed Syrian regime forces killed 12 civilians, including 4 children, in an attack on an Idlib town in late October, according to a report by Human Rights Watch published on Wednesday.
The lack of military targets in the strike, which took place as children were going to school, highly suggests an indiscriminate attack which fits a "pattern of unlawful Syrian and Russian attacks that kill civilians", the rights watchdog said.
"Syria and Russia appear to have violated the laws of war with deadly consequences for civilians there," said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Once again, Idlib's children are victim to callous and unlawful military actions."
Human Rights Watch analysed 52 videos and 64 photographs taken during and just after the attacks, as well as remotely interviewing eight people who witnessed the artillery strikes.
At least 14 large-calibre artillery shells into the town of Ariha in Idlib governorate on 20 October, it said.
New @hrw report on Oct. Syrian-Russian attack in Idlib that killed 12 civs, incl 4 kids, captures true cost of resumption of unlawful strikes. Govs shld impose targeted sanctions on commanders credibly implicated in war crimes or other serious violations https://t.co/7J70ff5CJ9 pic.twitter.com/CfjeYTxOtR— Belkis Wille (@belkiswille) December 8, 2021
HRW found that the shells fell near schools, health clinics, markets, and a chicken slaughterhouse in the centre of town, and have concluded that no military personnel or equipment were in the vicinity.
Witnesses say they heard artillery exchanges between Syrian-Russian forces and anti-regime forces earlier that day. The attack on Ariha began minutes after two improvised explosive devices detonated in Damascus at 6:45 am.
Human Rights Watch said they have provided a summary of their findings to the Syrian and Russian governments but have yet to receive a response.
International humanitarian law requires all warring parties to only direct attacks at military targets and to avoid harming civilians or civilian objects. Attacks in areas where there are no evident military targets, that are indiscriminate, or that cause civilian harm disproportionate to the anticipated military gain, are unlawful.
The attacks in Ariha coincided with the failure of peace talks between Assad's regime and opposition groups in Geneva.